The number of Lyme disease cases has grown steadily in Minnesota over the years. With many heading to the woods for summer hikes, one metro woman hopes they'll be mindful of ticks.
Ann Marie Cosgrove told FOX 9 News she wanted to share her cautionary tale because after years of suffering from Lyme disease, she hit rock bottom back in February.
"I was falling over. I was using a cane to walk," she recalled. "My arms were flailing by themselves. My whole face would turn numb, just go numb."
As her condition worsened, she felt like doctors were failing her -- unable to properly diagnose the tick-borne illness.
"People didn't recognize me. People thought I was dying," Cosgrove said. "I felt like I was dying."
The usually-active educational assistant remembers the conversation she had when she was kicked out of an emergency room verbatim.
"'Don't come back here. We can't fix you. We don't know what the problem is,'" she recited.
For Cosgrove, the biggest issue was that she never got the telltale bulls-eye rash that is the hallmark of Lyme disease, and her tests kept coming back negative.
"The rash is very suggestive, but not everybody gets it," said Dr. Frank Rhame, an infectious disease specialist with Allina. "Maybe 40 percent of people don't get it."
Rhame conceded that the disease can be tough to diagnose, but the Minnesota Department of Health reports a dramatic increase in cases since the 1990s. In 2012, there were 912 confirmed cases in the state with another 604 considered probable.
Early symptoms include the rash, fatigue, chills, fever, and aching muscles and joints.
"If they just feel crummy, and they have been up north, think Lyme," Rhame recommended.
Summer and autumn are the worst times of year, especially for those who spend time in the tick-filled wilderness. Rhame urges anyone who believes they may have the disease to seek immediate medical attention and to take antibiotics, which are usually enough to ward off any serious complications.
"The best thing to do is not get bitten by ticks," Rhame said. "The second-best thing is to inspect people carefully because with Lyme, it takes really 36- to 48-hour attachment before getting bacterium transmitted to you," he said.
After her multi-year ordeal with the disease, Cosgrove is now getting better and hopes others will realize that a tiny pest can become a big issue.
"I don't want anyone to go through what I went through," she said.
Rhame says cases like Cosgrove's are rare because most people can ward off the bacteria before it wreaks havoc on the body -- even without treatment; however, advocates are concerned about the growing number of misdiagnoses. Doctors have mistaken it for chronic fatigue syndrome, Crohn's disease and even early ALS. Many hope more public awareness will make a difference.